A recovered Falcon 9 first stage arriving in port on-board the drone ship. Image: SpaceX

Port Canaveral Considers Charging SpaceX 14 Times Normal Fee For Booster Return

Article written: 22 Jun , 2016
Updated: 21 Jul , 2016
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A dispute may be brewing between SpaceX and the Canaveral Port Authority, where the private space company brings its recovered boosters back to land. Citing concerns over wear and tear on the port’s facilities, the Authority is considering raising SpaceX’s fees by 14 times, to a total of $15,000 for each booster passing through.

Port Canaveral is the facility that SpaceX relies on in its operations. Spent boosters are recovered aboard their drone ship, which docks at the Port. They are then offloaded from the drone ship with SpaceX’s special crane, loaded onto a truck and delivered to Kennedy Space Center.

All of this activity puts a special strain on the Port’s facilities, according to Rodger Rees, the port’s deputy executive director and chief financial officer. In a memo to port commissioners, he said “Due to the heavy weight and the effect of this weight on the port’s berths, staff is recommending that the tariff be expanded to include a wharfage charges category for aerospace/aircraft items.”

So far, SpaceX has transported 3 recovered boosters through Port Canaveral. The rationalization for the fee increase is based on some minor damage caused to the Port, and on the increased wear and tear that 30 ton boosters will have on the Port and its structures. SpaceX’s special crane also takes up space at the Port.

A SpaceX Falcon 9 reusable first stage lands on the drone ship before being transported to Port Canaveral. Image: SpaceX

A SpaceX Falcon 9 reusable first stage lands on the drone ship before being transported to Port Canaveral. Image: SpaceX

But SpaceX isn’t being singled out. The Port is trying to develop a fee structure for private space companies, who are expected to proliferate in the future and require port facilities the same way SpaceX does.

“As new aerospace companies relocate to the Space Coast, it is anticipated that the port will need to accommodate items of a similar nature in the future, and will retain the right to negotiate these future charges, if needed,” said Rees in the same memo.

The fees themselves are a result of research into what other ports charge for oversized items. Staff at Port Canaveral have recommended charging $500 a ton or $15,000 per item, whichever amount is greater. In his memo to the port’s commissioners, Rees also said “Staff understands that the current Falcon first stage weighs approximately 30 tons when it arrives in the port on the drone ship. Under this weight, it is anticipated that each time the rocket stage is transported over the berth, a charge of $15,000 will be assessed and collected from the owner of the item.”

Rees made note of the cool factor that having SpaceX recover boosters at their facility gives the Port. SpaceX’s use of the Port attracts a lot of public interest, which also creates additional security and logistical considerations for the Port.

SpaceX has indicated that it is concerned with the raise in fees. Representatives from Port Canaveral and SpaceX are due to discuss the issue at a meeting on Wednesday, June 22nd.

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11 Responses

  1. BlackWolfStanding says

    I can see Space X building their own port in the near future.
    As for now, if a contract was signed, it should be lived up to. If no contract was signed, then they are right with the new fees. But like I said, be prepared for Space X to leave ASAP.

  2. Keatah says

    While I like the work SpaceX is doing I do not think they should get a free ride through the port if it requires special handling and equipment.

    I certainly don’t want my tax dollars going there for the benefit of a faceless mega-corp. Too much of that happens already.

    Besides, it will force them to make proper landings on land at their own facilities.
    Besides it

    • postman1 says

      They aren’t ‘getting a free ride’, they are paying the standard fees. Also, they provide their own crane, truck, and barge, as it states in the article. Higher orbit launches can’t return to land, so the barge is a necessity for now.

  3. James C. says

    The Port Authority has the right to charge what they decide, however SpaceX will either except this contract or change the methods to make things more reasonable. The drone ship was not meant to travel very far only to shore. What SpaceX could do is build a mother ship so the drone ship could maneuver inside and drop off the falcon 9 inside. Mother ship could have the cranes to flip the f9 on its side in the horizontal position. Loading it on a trailer at sea and rolling it off the ship by truck in Port. The mother ship could be a roll on, roll off ship (RO-RO) of sorts.

  4. cmanson says

    wear and tear on the port’s facilities aka the rape….we want to charge you more because we want to charge you more….you’re making more so should we….thats the american way….jackasses

  5. OregonBacon says

    SpaceX can pay it…. all they have to do is raise their rates for a rocket launch by almost nothing, $15,000, because they are 10’s of millions cheaper than anyone else already. Enough said on the subject…

  6. Alkaid says

    I’m not sure SpaceX has a good option other than Port Canaveral. Given that overland transport of something like the booster likely is neither cheap nor easy, choosing a port which is quite distant from their refurbishment and launch facilities may not be an option.

    Trying to obtain the real estate and permits so that they can build their own port may be both prohibitively expensive and bureaucratically impossible.

    I’d bet that SpaceX and a few others have already considered making an artificial island to act as a launch facility and as a port, but the logistics of making the island, developing the launch and recovery facilities along with the regulatory burdens will likely make it improbable.

    So I’m betting they pay what the Port requires. I’m also not sure it is unreasonable. . . Movement and handling of very heavy objects can result in relatively rapid (and expensive) deterioration of the structures required for the operation of the port. $15,000 may not be unreasonable.

  7. James C. says

    Continue from before: The mother ship would be helpful in taking f9 to Port Canaveral as well as back and forth travel to Boca Chica. Also, processing (safeing the rocket out at sea would probably reduce the cost of Port fees) out at sea would help traffic situation in Port.

  8. Member
    Aqua4U says

    Captive price gouging appears to have become an American tradition these days… The State of Florida should audit the port’s books (At the very least) to see wherever else they are doing this. That is if they are serious about rejuvenating the ‘space coast’.

  9. SteveZodiac says

    If I was Musk I would be pleased, there’s nothing more indicative of success than the bloodsuckers moving in.

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